Satan Tempts the Christ (2)

Part One

The second temptation of Jesus in Matthew concerns the protection of God:

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: `He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, `In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'” – Matthew 4:5-6.

            The “pinnacle”[1] of the temple was one of the highest points in Jerusalem.  Perhaps Satan imagined that this place, even though it was absent the Shekinah glory, would spice up the temptation?  In any event, the baiting refrain “If you are the Son of God” is more prominent this time, being backed by a “proof-text” from Psalm 91:11-12.  In this well known Psalm the promise of help is to those who abide “in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psa. 91:1).  They will be protected from outside evil, not from their own impetuosity.  What Satan was doing was misapplying the scripture.  This reminds us why context is so important to proper interpretation.           

Jesus said to him, “It is written again, `You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'” – Matthew 4:7.

            The Lord did not allow Himself to get pulled into an argument about context.  He showed that the devil was wrong by citing a passage that nullified the temptation.  If it is sinful to try to tempt God, then it is clear that Psalm 91 is being misused.  But note again that the plain sense of the passages is never at issue.

            When we come to the third temptation (as Matthew has it), we need not be long delayed by trying to ask how Christ could be shown all the world’s kingdoms from one location.  On a globe this would be impossible,[2] but if Satan produced a kind of screen where the kingdoms were depicted, that would work.  Again, perhaps Mt. Hermon[3] or Mt. Pisgah was used to add to the overall impression?[4]  But whatever the case, this is the record of the event:

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” – Matthew 4:8-9.

            This was an extremely presumptuous seduction, and it ended in a rebuke.  Rather than misapplying Scripture or trying to lure Jesus into independence from God, this enticement was to bypass the cross and receive the “Kingdom” without having to endure the misery and pain.  If one recalls that the Creation Project culminates upon the reign of the Messiah upon the earth God made “through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16), we can see that this tempts Jesus to gain something that is legitimately entitled to, but by illegitimate means.  The pronouncement of God at the baptism of Jesus alluded to the Davidic covenant: “I will be his Father, and he shall be My son.” (1 Chron. 17:13).  What Satan is trying to do is to offer the Davidic rule without Jesus first having to redeem the world.[5] 

            Mention of the Davidic covenant reminds us that “covenant” was in the minds of both Satan and the Lord.  Not a transformation of the covenant either, for if Jesus knew that the Davidic covenant was to undergo transformation (e.g., via typology) this would have been no temptation at all.  It would have been a pure waste of energy from the devil’s point of view. 

            It is just here that we must introduce Luke’s account, because he includes some added information:

And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.  Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.” – Luke 4:6-7.

            What this text reveals is extremely telling.  There is no reason to deny that it was within Satan’s power to gift the kingdoms of this world to whomever he chose.[6]  He is elsewhere called “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4), and in Revelation 13:2 we read that “The dragon gave him [the beast] his power, his throne, and great authority,” while “all who dwell on the earth” will worship the beast, who is under the authority of Satan (Rev. 13:4, 8. Cf. Rev. 12:9).  And in order for it to be a temptation Jesus would have had to have known that it was a real possibility (we cannot entertain the notion that He was ignorant of Satan’s power and authority).  Moreover, Jesus does not question the devil’s assertion of authority over the earth, any more than He questioned his interpretation of the Kingdom.  The test did not lay in that direction.  Rather, the rub was in the final clause; “if you will fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:9).[7]  And that is what makes this last temptation so significant for Bible interpretation.  If Satan made a bona fide offer (minus the improper idolatry) then one is faced with the reality of the two-part mission of Christ and the reality of the coming earthly Kingdom.  Since modern amillennialism has abandoned the spiritual interpretation of the Kingdom (i.e., making it Heaven) this does not present as much of a problem for it as formerly.  But the fact that amillennialism still teaches that the Kingdom began with the church is brought into question by this event.  So too postmillennialism teaches that the Kingdom will be brought about by the Spirit of God working through the church, but that is called into question here too. 

            What must be done is notice must be taken of the continuity with OT covenant expectation which is implicit in this exchange.  This is an important hermeneutical passage that has often been evaded.  Jesus does not accuse Satan of an empty promise.  In order for this to have been a temptation the “carrot” had to be real.                               

[1] This may refer to the flat porch overlooking the Kidron Valley over 400 feet below.

[2] Incidentally, it would also be impossible on an ancient flat earth model because of perspective. 

[3] Since there was some supra-natural power behind this temptation the mountain might have been located anywhere. 

[4] I see little problem in Satan (under God’s authority as in Job 1) being permitted to whisk Jesus to a suitable location for the temptation before returning Him.  But the fact is, we simply do not know how this carried out.   

[5] D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” EBC, Volume 8, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984, 114.

[6] Contra I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on Luke, 172.

[7] Most interpreters are clear about this.  E.g., Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1 – 13, 68; D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” 114; Ed Glasscock, Matthew, 88.       

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